Living the Future in the Present
June 23, 2002
Ordinary Sunday 12 Isaiah 55:1-5,10-13 Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Isaiah offers a wonderful glimpse of a time of perfection, where disease and death are no more and where the lamb and the wolf will feed together. Of course we assume that it is a future time, and hence Christianity so often becomes a faith of future hope. Christmas challenges such a preoccupation. After all it is the story of the arrival of a baby, and part of the psyche of the baby is that there is no future. There is only the beauty of the present moment. Just possibly Christmas is about living fully in the present, 'being' more than 'doing' and realising all your hopes in present moments. Contemporary Christianity faces a crisis of time. Is it going to be a religion based on future hope, or on realised love? Is it going to live well in the present or yearn for the better time to be?
Let me tell you two stories which illustrate the distinction. The first is a true story, a black story, a stark story.
A Little Rock woman was killed last month after leaping through her moving car's sun roof, in an incident which has been described as a mistaken rapture by her husband who was driving. It led to a 20 car pile up and 13 other injuries, as a mass of cars tried to avoid the woman who had become convinced that she had seen 12 people floating up into the air at the same time as seeing a man on the side of the road she believed to be Jesus. Her husband told the story - 'She believed it was the rapture, he said- She was screaming 'He's back! He's back! And she climbed onto the roof of the car. I was slowing down but she wouldn't stop. 'As it turns out the Jesus look-alike on the side of the road was on his way to a toga party. He had stopped his truck by the side of the road, when the tarp had become loose and released 12 blow up sex dolls filled with helium which floated into the air. The man who had been told by several friends that he looked like Jesus pulled his car over and lifted his arms in the air in frustration.
The dead woman's husband gave his statement, and finished by saying- 'My wife loved Jesus more than anything. She believed that was the end. She wouldn't miss out on Jesus kingdom for anything.' Police said it was the strangest incident they had ever encountered. A stark story of future hope. We have all seen the tragic consequences of this type of extreme religion. Yet for many Christians there is an element of future hope. So how does it work?
The second story is much closer to home. Recently I have been spending the day on Fridays with my two year old son. He doesn't yet speak a dialect which is intelligible to me, which is part of why he makes for such good company. On Fridays Darcy and I walk. We just walk the streets and see what is happening. We walk and sometimes for a change we run. Sometimes we walk backwards. Occasionally we walk with our eyes shut. We smell flowers. We poke cats sleeping on the footpath. We sit in coffee shops and we both talk. One of our favourite tricks is running sticks along the metal fence of the Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall in our street. It occasionally disturbs the meetings taking place inside, and briefly the attention of these pious people is diverted from their future hope discussions to the reality outside. They probably expect trouble, yet when they turn to look all they see is a young child and his dad simply being kids. I often imagine that they might pity us as people who have no future hope according to their religious beliefs. If only they knew. If only they realised that this is one of the times of life when I feel most alive and hopeful; precisely because nothing is further from my mind than the future.
No credit to myself. Left to my own devices I would obsess with the future. Credit to a two year old boy who has innocently offered me a conversion experience. I wondered during the week whether the term realisation could be a synonym for conversion. Realisation implies the bringing together of past and future into a present moment of clarity. Its about connections. Conversion may simply be realised love.
Which takes my mind full circle to Advent and Christmas. The story of Christmas is the story of the birth of hope. Surrounded by drama and intrigue, enormous expectation and apprehension, after all this is the Messiah, a situation which says 'forget the future' because right now the wonder is the birth of new life, a small baby. The lead up to this story is Advent where we wait for the arrival of hope, yet knowing all the time that it is right there before us in the ordinary moments of beauty and joy.
'Forget the future'. In fact the truth be known there is no future, only ever and always the present. That's all we can control. That's all we can experience. The present is our reality. The present lived well and fully is our opportunity. Where to for religion? Each to their own. My desire would be for religion which is positioned firmly in present reality, tussling and testing the boundaries of possibility. Religion which needs not worry about the future, and which directs people to the astounding possibilities of their present and to the challenging reality of the world's present.
The Gospel text points to the signs of the age; wars, famines and earthquakes. Are these signs which lead to a yearning for the future, or are they reminders which drive us more deeply into our present? I would suggest that since Sept 11, the great sign of our time, we are led to appreciate more fully that which is most precious in our lives.
In that we will be living the gospel of hope.
In conclusion, yesterday is already a dream, a mix of memory and necessary unreality. Tomorrow is nothing more than an unrealised vision. Today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of joy and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Today well lived is realised love. Today well lived we will realise that little else matters. In that we will experience conversion.